Saturday Drama on BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4, 20 October 2012
Sometimes reviewers are placed in an invidious position of wanting to
enjoy a production yet finding that they can't, however much they try. This was my feeling as I listened to Bloody
Poetry, Howard Brenton's 1984 play about Romantic poets Byron (Patrick Kennedy), Shelley (Oliver Ryan), and Mary
Shelley (Clare Corbett). The play could be described as a prototype of Men Behaving Badly; Byron emerges as
a serial womanizer, while Shelley leaves his first wife and spends a lot of time talking about the Peterloo massacre - so
much time, in fact, that the death of his child Clara catches him unawares. Mary Shelley spends much of her time ruminating
about Frankenstein without making so much fuss about the creative process.
However I have to admit that I got very tired of the endless verbal jousting between
the main characters, who seemed more interested in showing off rather than talking seriously about their poetic art.
My mind kept going back to "Ink and Incapability," the episode of Blackadder the Third where Samuel Johnson (Robbie
Coltrane) consorts with Byron (Steve Steen), Shelley (Lee Cornes), and Coleridge (Jim Sweeney). Although parodying the
Romantic spirit, Richard Curtis and Ben Elton's script offered far more entertaining portrayals of the poets than Brenton's